It has been a couple of weeks since the Arizona State Football program got their big bowl victory over the Duke Blue Devils in the Sun Bowl, but it’s never too late to look back at the Sun Devils second consecutive 10-win season.
We take a look at this team’s MVP’s of the both sides, the biggest win of the season, how the final couple weeks of recruiting will pan out and take a quick glance at what next year’s team could look like.
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HeatWaved: Who was your MVP of the offense this season?
Brendan Kennealy: I would say that the MVP of the offense is soon-to-be first round draft pick Jaelen Strong. Strong showed us all time-and-time again of why he was a Biletnikoff Award candidate with his insane one-handed catches and back-shoulder fade receptions. He was the most consistent player on the offense for the year and the offense will miss him dearly next season when he’s playing on Sundays.
Kevin Bonneville: Is there really anyone else? You have to go with Strong here. He made so many big catches throughout the season, catches that not too many guys across the country make and in huge situations to boot. That catch against USC will go down as one of the greatest in Sun Devils history. It’s just a shame that he won’t be back for his senior season.
HW: Who was your MVP of the defense?
Nov 28, 2014; Tucson, AZ, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils defensive lineman Marcus Hardison (1) sacks Arizona Wildcats quarterback Anu Solomon (12) during the 88th annual territorial cup at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
BK: For the defensive MVP, I will go with senior defensive lineman Marcus Hardison. The 6-4, 300 pound linemen racked up 53 tackles,15 tackles for loss, a team-high 10 sacks, forced three fumbles and intercepted two passes. He was the catalyst to an aggressive blitz-scheme under Coach Todd Graham and will also be looked at in the NFL draft in April.
KB: This isn’t as big of a no-brainer for me as the offensive side was as Damarious Randle was great this season, but I’m going to go with Hardison as well. He was the obvious leader of a defensive unit which was extremely young and he was productive all season long. He won’t be an easy guy to replace next season.
HW: Which game was the biggest win of the year?
Nov 8, 2014; Tempe, AZ, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Everett Golson (5) is sacked by Arizona State Sun Devils defensive lineman Marcus Hardison (1) during the first half at Sun Devil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
BK: The biggest win of the season, in my opinion, was the game against Notre Dame in a matchup of two top-10 teams. I personally was able to be on the Arizona State sideline for the game and the vibe of the offense, defense, special teams, coaches, fans and the all-around atmosphere at the game was unlike anything I had ever experienced before in my life.
The way the place exploded when Lloyd Carrington intercepted Everett Golson to seal the victory for the Sun Devils is a feeling that I have a hard time putting into words (not necessarily ideal for an aspiring sports journalist). I will be telling my kids and grandkids one day about the day the Sun Devils defeated the Fighting Irish at Sun Devil Stadium.
KB: As painful as this is to say being that I’m a die-hard Irish fan, but I have to agree with Brendan and go with that game as well. Like him, I was there as well and the atmosphere was fantastic. Of course, it helped that Golson was giving the ball away like it had a deadly disease on it. If the Devils would have lost that game, things could have gotten real ugly at the end of the season.
The bowl win over Duke was a huge victory as well. That gave them their second consecutive 10-win season, something that hasn’t been seen in several years. Not only does it give you momentum heading into next season, it helps with the next category we are going to discuss.
HW: Who is the one recruit you would love to get to close out this class?
Dec 27, 2014; El Paso, TX, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils head coach Todd Graham walks off the field at halftime as his team faces the Duke Blue Devils in the 2014 Sun Bowl at Sun Bowl Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports
BK: Arizona State is currently on pace to notch a top-25 recruiting class for the second consecutive season, but they could do even better if they land DeChaun Holiday, a four-star defensive back. If ASU was able to land Holiday, who is one of six recruits visiting Arizona State this week, it would definitely help their secondary next year after losing Randall (graduating).
The team as a whole is bringing back 18 of their 22 starters, so there’s not much wiggle-room for a recruit to possibly start next year, but Holiday would add another solid DB to Graham’s defensive arsenal.
KB: Let me start out by saying that Graham has done a heck of a job the last two recruiting cycles. He knows that to compete at a national level, you have to do great job at building your offensive and defensive lines.
With saying that, I think the biggest uncommitted recruit left on the board for Graham and his staff is Rasheem Green, a five-start defensive lineman out of California. Green has the size and athleticism to step in and play right away and with Hardison heading to the pros, that could certainly happen. The Sun Devils must steal these guys from California every now and then to remain at the top of the Pac-12.
HW: What area does this team need to improve on most heading into next season?
Nov 28, 2014; Tucson, AZ, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils wide receiver Gary Chambers (81) jogs to the sideline during the second quarter of the territorial cup against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium. The Wildcats won 42-35. Mandatory Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports
BK: Losing Strong to the NFL Draft is a big blow to the receiving corps. I believe that the number one area that ASU should focus on most in the offseason is that of their receivers. Moving D.J. Foster to the slot will help a lot, but someone will have to step up on the outside spot for the offense to be as dominant as they were the past two seasons with Strong on the team.
Cameron Smith showed signs of promise, but guys like Fredrick Gammage, Gary Chambers and Ellis Jefferson will also get their chance at landing a starting gig.
KB: I don’t think there’s one particular area that this football team needs to drastically improve in. I think the biggest thing is that they need to continue making strides on the defensive end of the football. That unit was so young last season, which is why they struggled at the beginning of the season.
The good thing about that though is lot of inexperienced guys got some valuable minutes last season, which should bode well for this football team come 2015.
Oh yeah, it wouldn’t also hurt if Graham improved his game clock management. It can be frustrating to watch at times.
HW: How do you think Foster will do with a slot receiver role compared to a running back role he’s had the past two years?
Nov 28, 2014; Tucson, AZ, USA; Arizona Wildcats defensive lineman Parker Zellers (93) dives to tackle Arizona State Sun Devils wide receiver D.J. Foster (8) during the 88th annual territorial cup at Arizona Stadium. The Wildcats defeated the Sun Devils 42-35 to win the Pac-12 south title. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
BK: I believe Foster will not be as productive in the slot as he was as a pass-catching running back this year. Foster was incorporated enough in the offense this year as a dual-threat back and obviously getting the ball in his hands more often will be a focal point of the offense next season, but I believe that his running ability should not be overlooked.
A positive of him switching to the slot is that it will allow Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard, who will both be sophomores next year, the proper amount of touches to better the offense after Foster leaves next year.
KB: To be honest, I don’t think it matters where you put this guy. He’s going to be productive no matter what, that’s how good of a football player he is.
Like Brendan said, the best part about putting him in the slot is you get more touches for Ballage and Richard. With one of those two on the field to go along with Foster, it makes it that much more difficult for the opposing defense to stop ASU’s high-octane offense.
HW: Does Brady White pose a threat to Mike Bercovici for the starting quarterback gig?
Nov 28, 2014; Tucson, AZ, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils quarterback Mike Bercovici (2) against the Arizona Wildcats during the 88th annual territorial cup at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
BK: White joins Bercovici and Manny Wilkins as the quarterbacks on ASU next year. White does possess a great skill set, but I believe that Bercovici will win the starting job during spring football.
I do think that White will win the backup job over Wilkins, however. Bercovici has shown that he can carry the team after going 3-1 this past season when Taylor Kelly went down with an injury and will be relied on once more next year to lead the Sun Devils to victory.
KB: I’m sure there will be some sort of competition during the spring, but unless something strange happens, Bercovici will the Devils starting quarterback come the first week of the season.
I was actually pretty vocal of Bercovici earning more playing time last season. I get that Kelly was a senior and he deserved respect, but I felt with Berc under center, that offense had a higher ceiling and was just more explosive given his arm strength.
The Devils offense should be fun to watch Bercovici under center next season.